Self harm

Information about self-harm and places to find support.

What is self-harm?

It can be a very lonely place to be when your child or young person is self-harming, but it is more common than you may realise.

A lot of people think self-harm means cutting the skin, but there are many ways people might hurt themselves. Some are much less obvious such as:

  • scratching or rubbing skin
  • digging your nails into yourself and pinching yourself
  • for some people, using drugs or alcohol and starting fights can be a form of self-harm.

Self-injurious behaviour

Sometimes, people with learning disabilities or difficulties hurt themselves in ways such as head banging or biting themselves. This is not always deliberate and can be more like a form of communication, for example if they are distressed or need something.

You can read more about self-injurious behaviour below:

Self-harm and suicide

Research has shown that people who self-harm are at more risk of suicidal thoughts. However, self-harming does not necessarily mean somebody is feeling suicidal. It can be a way of coping with many different emotions and difficulties. Some may term this as non-suicidal self-injury.

Why do people self-harm?

Self-harm is a way of dealing with difficult emotions and situations. It is often labelled as ‘attention seeking’. It is important to know that people who self-harm need support, not judgment.

There are many different reasons why somebody might harm themselves. It is important not to make assumptions about why somebody is doing it. 

Reasons might include:

  • Needing to feel something physical when overwhelmed.
  • Feeling angry at self or deserving of punishment.
  • Communicating distress that the person cannot verbalise.
  • Distracting themselves from emotional pain.
  • A way of dealing with trauma or difficult memories.

Self-harm and autism

Some research suggests that autistic people are more likely to self-harm. See more specific information about autism and self-harm.

More information

If you are concerned that any of the above applies to you, a friend or family member, there are lots of services that can help. Services won't force the person to stop, but they will provide support.